Elaine Gordon was born in The Bronx, New York, but became Florida’s "native" daughter, a devoted public servant who representing the state’s underrepresented in the Florida legislature for 22 years. She distinguished herself through her knowledge of the issues, her tireless work, her compassion for people, and her passion for the democratic process. A person of the highest character and integrity, her champions and opponents alike said, "Her word was always good."
Gordon became an advocate for equal rights in 1964 when, as a divorced Miami mother of three young children, she was denied opportunities solely because she was a woman. She was passed over for jobs that were traditionally given to men and could not even establish credit as a single woman. She was a founder of the National Organization for Women and the Florida Women’s Political Caucus and quickly emerged as a savvy, intelligent, outspoken community activist, a leader and force to be reckoned with.
Elaine Gordon was determined to change the system, set an agenda and make policy that helped people. She knew that change could be accomplished most effectively from within. She was part of Florida’s constitutional revision session in 1968, serving as a legislative assistant. In 1972, with a campaign staff consisting of her parents and children, she defeated a sitting mayor and was sworn in as a member of the Florida Legislature, representing the people of Northeast Miami-Dade County. The people liked what they saw, she delivered what they wanted, and they elected her to represent them 11 consecutive times.
Elaine Gordon’s legislative activities and accomplishments were directed at helping people. She sponsored and passed legislation to improve the quality of life for all Floridians, including the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and legislation to protect women and children through child support enforcement and protection from domestic violence. She was a champion of Florida’s 1989 hate crimes law, which became a model for the nation. She was the voice and guardian of abused children, victims of sexual assault, the elderly, the indigent and the mentally ill. She also introduced the terms "Ms." and "chairperson" to the legislature and had smoking banned in the House chamber and committee rooms more than 30 years ago. In the early 1980s she crafted and sponsored Florida’s Patients Bill of Rights legislation. She was a woman ahead of her time.
As a result of Gordon’s hard work, keen knowledge of the issues, mastery of the process and the respect of her colleagues, she ascended to the highest and most influential circles of legislative leadership that included many "firsts" for women in Florida politics and government. She was the first woman to chair a standing committee, the first female Speaker Pro Tempore and the first woman inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. She was the first recipient of the Florida United Way Humanitarian Award. She chaired numerous committees during her tenure and earned the respected title of Dean of the House. As she accumulated legislative experience and seniority and became the House’s longest-sitting member, her colleagues often looked to her for advice and counsel.
Her colleagues in the legislature rewarded her breadth of knowledge, hard work and dedication to the people with increased responsibility. In 1986 Speaker James Harold Thompson tapped her to chair two major committees simultaneously. She led the committee on Health and Rehabilitative Services and the subcommittee on Appropriations, which was responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding the state’s hospitals, prisons, state attorneys and public defender’s offices and programs for the mentally ill, women and children. She was tapped for special assignments as well, serving on the state’s first comprehensive water quality committee and on a joint committee for prison overcrowding.
Gordon will long be remembered for her indefatigable efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970’s. Although she prevailed in the House, her efforts fell just short in the Senate. Undeterred, she never stopped fighting for women’s equality under the law. She just took it piece by legislative piece one law at a time for more than two decades.
When Elaine Gordon retired in 1994, she returned home to her family and the district she represented with distinction. But she did not retire from serving the public. She became an assistant vice president at the university she loved just a few miles from her home, Florida International University. She helped raise funds for scholarships at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus and for the University’s state-of-the-art conference center. She also served as proactive liaison to the North Dade community, establishing new friends and supporters for FIU.
A public servant, wife, mother and grandmother, Elaine Gordon was quite simply an extraordinary woman. Her legacy will last a lifetime—she left a more tolerant, more compassionate and better Florida.
Elaine Gordon died on February 25, 2000 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at the age of 68.